"Our opposition to this bill does not rest on a simple concern for the interests of religious institutions only," the conference said in a statement. "The bill continues to provide no protections for an individual's religious freedoms, such as those of a clerk forced to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple.

"More importantly, our fundamental concern about redefining marriage is for the sake of our whole society, and particularly for children and their elemental desire to know, and ideally to be raised and loved by, their biological mother and father."

But the change was enough to sway Rosapepe, who is Catholic. He had not previously discussed his position publicly.

"I intend to vote for the bill as it was reported out of committee with a strengthened conscience clause to respect the views of religious denominations which do not recognize same-sex marriage," he wrote in his e-mail to constituents.

The bill might still be amended during the floor debate, which could threaten the support of the narrow majority. Rosapepe acknowledged the possibility in his e-mail: "I don't know what other amendments may be proposed on the Senate floor but will keep your concerns in mind as we consider them."

Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola, the bill's lead sponsor, attended the committee meeting.

Sen. James Brochin offered an amendment to transform the same-sex marriage bill into a civil unions bill. The committee rejected the idea by a vote of 10-1.

The bulk of the debate centered around Raskin's amendment, which says groups affiliated with religious institutions would not have to perform same-sex weddings, and they also would not have to "celebrate" them.

In what will undoubtedly be a preview of the Senate debate, some argued that the change would allow widespread discrimination against gay couples.

"It is incredibly broad," said Sen. Robert Zirkin. "You are inviting all sorts of lawsuits with this language."

The Baltimore County Democrat argued that the provision could allow a group to exclude same-sex couples who, for example, wanted to simply hold an anniversary party.

Raskin agreed with the example. The point of the provision, he said, was to extend the same freedoms of expression to religious groups that he is supporting for gay couples.

Committee passage of the bill had been expected: All seven of the supporters had said they would vote for the bill.

After the vote, even opponents seemed resigned to fighting an uphill battle.

"The public opinion has changed on this issue," said Senate Minority Leader Nancy Jacobs, a Republican representing Harford and Cecil counties. She said she is going to vote against the bill.

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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